Seagulls are pecked off by jammy United
MANCHESTER United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did his best to play down the warning signs flashing before as his team limped to a win at Brighton yesterday, but he can't ignore the crisis rushing towards him at high speed.
Solksjaer's excuse for last week's lamentable performance and defeat against Crystal Palace focused on his side's lack of preparation for the new season, as they had a shorter than usual break due to their involvement in the latter stages of last season's much-delayed Europa League.
Yet, they have had another week of training to prepare for their latest Premier League outing and, once more, his players looked leggy, uninspired and outclassed by opponents they should be beating with some ease.
Their defensive flaws were exposed time and against as Republic of Ireland striker Aaron Connolly led an energetic Brighton offensive that should have won a second successive Premier League game.
The statistic that the home side hit the woodwork five times needs to be completed by figures that confirm they had 18 shots on goal, led the possession stats and United didn't force a corner until injury time.
The disfigurement of Solksjaer's side was so glaring that the world's finest plastic surgeon would have turned down the chance to reshape them, and therein lies the problem for the United manager.
As was the case in the transfer window before both Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho were fired by United, the club appear to have shut down the financial support line to their latest manager in a summer when he has made no secret of his desire to sign Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho.
The €120m asking price for the England youngster may be extortionate in this Covid-infected transfer window, but the perception that United and their executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward are making a mess of another transfer window is hard to avoid.
If United don't have the money to blow all their transfer budget on Sancho, they need to quickly turn their attention to other areas of the team. In the opinion of United legend Rio Ferdinand, that needs to be their defensive line.
A less-than-convincing display from Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof confirmed they will not be the pairing to bring United success, with BT Sport pundit Ferdinand withering in his criticism.
"They were slow and cumbersome," he said of Solskjaer's centre-back duo. "There were so many different mistakes. It was terrible to see and it is disappointing. This is an area I have spoken about for many months, and it has not been addressed.
"The manager could show them the Europa League semi-final and FA Cup semi-final as well. Mistakes are costing them time and again.
"You look at Liverpool, they bought Alisson to solve their goalkeeping issue and Van Dijk for their defence, Man United have not done that.
"I want Jadon Sancho at United. He is a generational talent and would get fans off their seats, but does he solve the fundamental problems I see with this team? No."
It was not just United's defence that was lacking. Paul Pogba was dreadful in midfield before he was withdrawn once again by Solskjaer, with his forward players deprived of the service they need to thrive.
A re-match against Brighton in the Carabao Cup now awaits United, before a showdown with Mourinho's Tottenham at Old Trafford next weekend. By then, the real United need to emerge from the shadows.
Solskjaer's look of concern throughout this game confirms that results alone will not keep him in his dream job. Unless performances improve, it is hard to see how United can find a winning consistency any time soon.
You wonder whether United's hierarchy would have found the money to sign Sancho if Mauricio Pochettino or a higher-profile coach was the man making the demands because, at this moment, Solskjaer looks like he is being set up for a fall.
By kevin palmer